American Artscape Notable Quotable: Susie Surkamer, South Arts

By Rebecca Sutton
A man plays piano and another plays saxophone in a small art gallery

Pianist Lucian Ban and saxophonist Alex Harding perform with support from Jazz Road, a program led by South Arts in collaboration with other regional arts organizations that offers touring grants to jazz musicians. Photo by Jim Brock 

"This is how work gets done. People need to know each other. They need to connect. They need to have people that they can call and collaborate with." — Susie Surkamer, Executive Director, South Arts

n the 1970s, Susie Surkamer had her first taste of how the arts can benefit communities when she served as a dancer-in-residence in South Carolina schools, as a way to bridge social divides following desegregation. She has remained a public servant of the arts ever since, working at the South Carolina Arts Commission in a variety of roles—including executive director—before joining South Arts in 2012 as executive director.

Established in 1975, South Arts is the regional arts organization that serves Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The organization is known for a number of high-profile programs, including an emergency preparedness program for arts organizations called ArtsReady; Folklorists in the South Convening; the Southern Circuit Tour of independent media artists; and the Southern Prize, which awards nine visual artists from the region a total of $80,000. South Arts also leads the newly formed Jazz Road, a collaboration among the nation’s six regional arts organizations that awards grants to jazz musicians so that they might tour their music across the country and especially to rural and non-traditional venues.

For the National Endowment for the Arts American Artscape magazine, we recently spoke with Surkamer by phone about South Arts, and how the organization is helping artists and arts organizations across the region have better access to a diverse range of resources and opportunities. Read the story here.

You can find the entire inaugural issue of American Artscape on the role of the regional arts organizations in the U.S. arts ecosystem here.